According to the NHS and Healthline there are a number of neurological and brain-related illnesses that can occur in a person’s lifetime. The most common of these include mild cognitive impairment (MCI), Parkinson's disease, all forms of Dementia and Alzheimer's disease. In the UK, we currently have around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK. This is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
Common symptoms of these diseases include:
- Memory Loss
- Forgetfulness in the long and short-term memory
- Loss of inhibition
- Mood changes
- Loss of fine motor skills
- Loss of speech
Causes and Development of the Disease
Causes of brain diseases are widely misunderstood, however, there are arguments to say that genetics have a large part to play, alongside, poor diet, excessive alcohol or narcotic usage, brain injuries, infection, a sedentary lifestyle, reduced blood flow, physiological changes in brain structure, hypertension and many more. Rarely is the onset of a brain disorder sudden, instead it is likely to be caused by several factors and develop slowly over time. Experts have agreed that the following factors do have a positive influence on reducing risk:
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- maintaining a healthy weight
- exercising regularly
- keeping alcohol within recommended limits
- stopping smoking
- keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level
Statistics about Brain Diseases
- Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 50-75% of diagnoses.
- One study of a small test population found that the prevalence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) increased with age: 7.6% for 55–59 years; 9.5% for 60–69 years; 14.6% for 70–79 years; and 23.6% for 80 years and older.
- Women have a higher prevalence of MCI than men.
- According to the NHS, 1 in 14 people over 65 years, and 1 in 6 people over 80 years have dementia.
- According to the Alzheimer’s association, ~15-20% of people aged 65 or older have MCI.
- 52% of the general public know someone who has been diagnosed with a form of dementia.
Nutrition for Brain Health
As we mentioned above, experts have revealed that a healthy and a balanced diet plays a large part in preventing the onset of disease and maintaining the health of the brain. Here are some key nutrients and herbal ingredients that science has shown are related to cognitive health.
For a long time, the effects of severe iodine deficiency in regions have been studied such as the Northern Indian Subcontinent, mountain ranges of China, the Andean region in South America and, Africa. However, more recently we have discovered the powerful benefits that Iodine has to normal cognitive function. Within the body Iodine is needed for normal thyroid function and thyroid hormone production. Studies show that very high and low thyroid gland function in middle-aged and elderly adults are both associated with decreased cognitive functioning, especially memory, visuospatial organization, attention, and reaction time.
Iodine is commonly found in fish, seaweed, non-organic milk and iodised salt. Also, it can be found in supplement form, either through synthetic iodine tablets or sea kelp tablets. Please be mindful that the iodine content of sea kelp can vary, yet synthetic iodine supplements deliver a consistent dosage of iodine to meet requirements.
Zinc carries an approved health claim for normal cognitive function and mental performance, helping to support the brain and nerve functions which determine aspects like concentration, learning, memory, reasoning, and resistance to stress. One study concluded that, both increased and decreased zinc concentrations in the brain have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. A study of 387 healthy adults aged 55-87 years took either 15 or 30 mg Zinc/day for 3 months. After this, their visual memory, working memory, attention and reaction time were measured. After 3 months, there was significant benefit to spatial working memory at both dosages.
Zinc can be found in shellfish, meat, wholegrains, beans, legumes and dairy. Alternatively, you might like to opt for a zinc supplement. Typically, these provide around 15mg of elemental zinc, or 150% of your daily requirement.
Iron is best known for its role in red blood cells, but did you know that it contributes to normal cognitive function? Reports from the European food safety authority state that iron deficiency can cause reduced cognitive performance and deficits in attention, perceptual motor speed, memory and verbal fluency. One study looked at, iron deficiency and cognitive function finding a positive correlation between iron sufficient haemoglobin levels and mini-mental state examinations (MMSE).
Iron has poor absorption in the diet, and many people miss out on potent sources of this nutrient. Food sources include, green leafy vegetables, meat, dark chocolate, beans, legumes, fried fruits and breakfast cereals. Alternatively, you may like to try iron supplement in the form of an iron liquid, tablet or capsule, most strengths provide 14mg of 100% of your daily requirement.
Ginkgo and Ginseng
This is a common pairing that you will see in the supplement world. These two Chinese herbs make a synergistic pair for brain health. Claims state that they promote cognitive function, brain performance, and concentration. Not to mention contributing to improved circulation to the brain which is associated with better reactivity and concentration. One study gave participants a supplement containing ginkgo (360mg) and/or Ginseng (400mg), or a placebo. Each participant underwent all treatment categories. To test cognition, they were given a cognitive drug research computerised assessment battery and 2 arithmetic tests. Studies showed that ginseng improved the speed of performing memory tasks and the accuracy of attentional tasks. Whereas Ginkgo and a combination of Ginkgo/Ginseng helped to improve arithmetic task results.
Lifestyle Boosts for Brain Health
- If you are a smoker, try your best to cut down or stop. Here is a link for support - LINK
- Try to minimise how much sitting you do in a day. Get up and move about as often as you can.
- Try to implement a regular exercise routine to reduce sedentary time.
- If you enjoy alcohol, try to be mindful of the units that you are consuming.
- Have regular check-ups with your GP to ensure your blood pressure remains within a normal range.
- If you are concerned about any changes in your cognitive health please reach out you your healthcare practitioner for tests.
If this is something that has affected your family or is a concern to you here are several resources, you might like to use:
- Alzheimer’s Society - https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/
- Alzheimer's Research- https://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/
- org - https://www.alz.org/uk/dementia-alzheimers-uk.asp
- Dementia UK- https://www.dementiauk.org/
- The Lewy Body Society- https://www.lewybody.org/
- Age UK- https://www.ageuk.org.uk/
- The research institute for the care of older people- https://www.rice.org.uk/living+with+dementia
- Malestrom, 2002. Encyclopaedia of the human brain. Academic Press, New York.